What Is Sustainable Fashion? A Beginner’s Guide

Last summer, I saw this ad for a £ 1 bikini and I rolled my eyes so hard it hurt.

We’re aware that profit has been (and still is) prioritized over sustainability for many, many years.

But don’t you think we should naturally be sceptical of products like this one? Or of offers like the 99% off some fast fashion brands blessed us with last Black Friday?

During this specific sale, you could find steals like an £ 0.08 ($ 0.11) dress and a £ 0.25 ($ 0.35) pair of shoes. But you already know that someone else is paying for our bargains and our shopping sprees.

See, it’s obvious that this situation is out of control and that if someone can’t see the problem they’re actually turning a blind eye to it.

Like, imagine being against human rights.

That’s where people like you, a responsible consumer, come into play with sustainable fashion as your best ally.

You know how important it is to protect the environment and how everyone’s human rights should be respected – and you know how to do this all while looking fabulous.

So it’s your time to shine and support a fair and clean fashion industry.

If you want to learn more about all things sustainable, ethical, eco and slow fashion, you can download this short ebook that I prepared exclusively for you

First things first, what is sustainability?

Sustainability means ‘meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs‘ (definition given by the United Nations Brundtland Commission in 1987 #themoreyouknow).

And maybe this is a wild thought, but the fact that we are not willing to endanger our future for the sake of being trendy…hmmm…kinda makes sense to me.

This means that both the environment and the rights and integrity of all people involved in the fashion industry must be respected. Not too outlandish, in my opinion.

And this involves way more things than most of us might imagine. We need to think about stuff like how garments are designed, which materials are used and how they are sourced,  how efficiently energy and water are consumed in factories, who are the manufacturers, or how much waste is created.

We even have to be conscious about how products are presented to the consumer through honest and transparent marketing – only like this we can consume responsibly and avoid greenwashing.

You can read more about greenwashing here and learn about the greenwashing red flags you should look out for here.

second hand sweater and vintage shorts outfit

Sustainable fashion is ethical, eco-friendly and slow

We use the term sustainable fashion as an umbrella term that includes more specific areas of conscious fashion like these:

  • eco-fashion has little to no impact on the environment and is mindful of the resources it uses.
  • ethical fashion focuses more on social aspects like animal protection and the ethical treatment of workers and communities – no matter if it’s in California or Cambodia.
  • slow fashion is a whole movement and mindset that focuses on timeless fashion. Its motto: quality over quantity.
  • circular fashion
  • minimalism

This is cool because it lets us address different worries we have about the fast fashion industry (which are a lot *yikes*) and decide if we want to prioritize certain aspects of sustainability over others.

For example, I might prefer using natural materials over synthetic ones but maybe you think that vegan fashion is the way to go.

These are all valid ways to greenify your wardrobe and choosing one over the other is completely fine as long as you’re making informed decisions and focusing on major goals like reducing waste, advocating for a fair industry or promoting innovation.

Now, let’s go into detail.

Why is sustainable fashion great for our environment?

1. Very little environmental impact sustainable fashion environment

One of the main goals of sustainable fashion brands is to use as little resources as possible – especially non-renewable resources.

As well, they try to reduce their carbon footprint or even become carbon neutral by using renewable sources of energy and offsetting the emissions they can’t avoid.

And they don’t forget to act locally. They make sure that they’re not harming the environment that surrounds their factories or causing any indirect environmental damage to the communities around them – for example by not leaking dirty water or chemicals into freshwater streams.

2. The materials they use – and how, where and by whom they have been produced

This is crucial. Most modern fast fashion brands will use whichever material is cheaper to cut corners and get a greater profit.

Thankfully, sustainable fashion brands come to the rescue by making sure to use the most eco-friendly materials and techniques possible, like non-water intensive natural crops or recycled fibers (either natural or synthetic).

There are also lots of natural fibers with very little environmental impact that come from plants instead of animals – which makes them eco-friendly + vegan. Such are the cases of bamboo, hemp and Tencel.

And don’t forget that a lot of brands are using recycled plastics to produce their clothing. There is controversy around this topic because clothes made of recycled plastic are, well, still made of plastic. And that comes with all the problems of synthetic clothes, such as the creation of microplastics.

If you want to learn more about clothes made of recycled plastic and this whole dilemma surrounding them, check this post!

3. Minimizing waste

Industrial waste is a huge problem for any business selling material goods. In the fashion sector, industrial waste means that fabric scraps, left-over materials and faulty products are just thrown away and end up being wasted, either thrown into landfills or incinerated.

Sustainable fashion brands try their best to minimize their waste by

  • using zero-waste manufacturing techniques
  • repairing flawed clothes instead of throwing them away
  • reusing leftover materials or selling them as scraps to other companies that can take advantage of them
  • when there’s no way to save the material, recycling it correctly

The human side of sustainable fashion

When it comes to the social implications of fashion, sustainable brands will always support empowerment instead of abuse. 

This involves everything that has to do with how workers are treated: wages, health insurance, safety in the workplace, stability guarantees,…

Sure, it has a lot to do with ethical fashion, so we can’t forget about the fair treatment to animals — this is where vegan and cruelty-free fashion comes into play.

sustainable fashion revolution

Ethical companies follow their values and guidelines to the T. They respect all of their workers and their rights regardless of gender, race, social background, etc. And they ensure that their factory workers, even overseas, have the living standards they deserve.

This is a way to empower individuals and communities to grow and prosper, promote their autonomy and reduce inequalities, instead of making them depend on abusive companies.

If you haven’t watched the documentary The true cost yet, leave whatever you’re doing (after you’re done with this post of course) and go watch it.

It’s a serious eye-opener.

Sometimes we get so caught up in our own lives that we forget that there is someone behind our clothes – who cultivated our cotton, who assembled the pieces that make up our shirts,… that whole other side of the supply chain we don’t get to see directly.

As a consumer, you make the decisions that matter

You set the rules, you decide who you empower and what kind of business you want to help perpetuate.

Look, Economics101: companies bring to the market what consumers ask for. This change is happening right before our eyes with governments banning single-use plastics or fast food chains ditching plastic straws.

So by supporting sustainable brands, you will be contributing to all the goodness these fashion angels are doing for the world. You will be supporting social development, environmental conservation and future.

A great place to start would be to try and focus on the quality of your clothes and the value they bring into your life instead of just consuming for the sake of it.

And you can also check this post on how to quit fast fashion or this one on how to tell if a brand is really sustainable, they’re pretty nice too.


what is sustainable fashion
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2 thoughts on “What Is Sustainable Fashion? A Beginner’s Guide”

  1. Pingback: The New Fashion Resolutions – The Underlined Blog

  2. Hi Lily, glad to know you and your thought of ethical fashion. Right now I am trying to open my ethical small fashion business in from my house concern in fashion muslim which is right now it is a huhe market yet I think it’s time to change this fashion more sustain. Thus maybe you can help me to collaborate with my brand, it will help so much. Looking forward to hear your response. Thank you and keep inspiring.

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